BPW Fertility Project: ThinkFertility.com.au
BPW is aware of data that indicates women are delaying childbirth, and conducted research in 2004 to explore the reasons why.
The media tends to report that this phenomenon results from “women choosing to have children later” in order to focus on travel and career, but this is only a part of the story. In fact, choice has very little to do with it. Most couples who want children plan to have 2 or 3 babies in their late 20s or early 30s, but in reality they end up with one in their late 30s or sadly none at all. Why?
Whereas a few decades ago one wage could pay a mortgage or the rent, the financial constraints on couples now make decisions about family formation very challenging. Many Australian babies were born during long service leave [which is not available in any other country], but young people don’t tend to work for long periods with the same employer so long service leave has become less common. Qualifications creep, whereby a university degree has become a minimum expectation for many jobs, and the lack of paid parental leave have also been major drivers. The birth rate has been rising slightly since paid parental leave was introduced.
Although the media rarely considers the male partner involved [are these all virgin births, one wonders?], a significant reason is men choosing to have children later, or deciding late in a relationship that they don’t want children at all. The female partner who wants a child is left high and dry, with diminishing fertility and few alternatives.
The most surprising finding was that women and men do not have sufficient access to information about how fertility declines with age when they make family formation decisions. They have information about contraception but not conception. They read about older women having babies and IVF successes, and presume this is the norm. As a consequence many are making decisions that with the wisdom of hindsight and correct information they have indicated they would not have made.
BPW South Australia sought and received a Commonwealth Women’s Leadership and Development Program Grant in 2006 to conduct a national project focussed on raising awareness about how fertility declines with age for men and women and the lifestyle and age related factors that impinge on fertility, enabling them to make informed choices about their fertility and family formation. This has been supplemented by generous sponsorship.
Information about fertility can be found in GPs’ rooms and hospital clinics, but healthy women and men don’t see their doctor often, and may not pick up this information. Websites on infertility are generally related to IVF clinics and take a medical and curative perspective rather than preventative. It was determined that accurate information needs to be provided, tailored to the needs of healthy women and men and presented from a non-medical perspective.
The project produced a series of pamphlets for a range of audiences including men, women and couples of various ages and backgrounds, and a website: ThinkFertility.com.au that addresses the same target audiences. The project is now complete and the website continues to be maintained.
The core project team is
· Dr Jean Murray, Project Leader –BPW Australia Executive Secretary 2013-2016 and previous national government policy adviser
· Dr Christine Kirby, Expert Advisor – Clinical Director at Repromed (a reproductive medicine clinic)
· Sheila Evans – past BPW Australia Executive Secretary and past Director of Policy, experienced counsellor and educator
· Gillian Lewis – past State President BPW South Australia, government policy adviser with social work experience